On the last GlobalGiving Bonus Day, we were asking our GlobalGiving donors to help fund our very first drum carder for our Huillloc spinning cooperative. We are excited to report that after your generous donations, we were finally able to purchase this valuable machine.
A drum carder combs raw textile fibers to make it easier to spin them into yarn. To learn more about why Awamaki’s first drum carder was such an important purchase, I sat down with our head designer and self-proclaimed “wool nerd”, Kate Mitchell.
“This is the obvious next step in our efforts to improve quality control,” explained Kate. There are two major challenges when turning natural alpaca fiber into high-quality yarn: getting the sheared fibers clean, and getting the colors consistent. The spinners have been having problems thoroughly cleaning their fibers, and some of their finished products still have bits of grass in them. Likewise, they have been having issues with color consistency too. The drum carder is helping solve these problems.
Washing the fiber in soap and warm water helps get the dirt out, but other stuff like grass has to be picked out by hand. “The drum carder combs through the fibers and makes it easier to separate out these impurities,” according to Kate.
In the below photo, you can see cardered vs. uncardered black alpaca wool fiber. Cardered fiber results in higher quality yarn because the combing aligns the fibers, making it easier to spin.
A drum carder will also allow the spinners to create more consistent colors in their yarns. In Peru, there are 52 official shades of natural alpaca. Awamaki spinners make 4 of these shades in wholesale yarn. Kate explains that the trouble is, a single alpaca may have three or four different shades of fiber in their coat. As the carder combs through the natural material, it mixes and blends fibers to create a more consistent yarn color.
This process works the same for dyed fibers. One batch of natural dye may produce several different colors on the raw fibers, as demonstrated in the photo below. When this batch is combed through the drum carder, the different shades that occur naturally will be blended together, resulting in a more consistent color throughout the resulting yarn. Additionally, we can also hand-pick different colors we choose to blend in the drum carder. This gives the women a wider color palette to work with for our yarns and finished products.
As you can see in the pictures of pink yarn, when fiber from a single alpaca is dyed at the same time in the same batch, the resulting color isn’t always even throughout the fiber. Putting this through a drum carder will blend the different shades together to produce a consistent color throughout the resulting yarn.
Our new drum carder will also save our artisans a lot of time. Kate explains that the amount of alpaca fiber that used to take an hour to clean now can be cleaned in 10 minutes. This massive time-saver allows for an increase in production, taking us one step closer to our goal of adding a line of yarns available to our wholesale customers.
We’re excited about the new drum carder, but no new change in production is without its challenges. The drum carder is currently being kept in Awamaki’s office in Ollantaytambo. We hope to soon get it out to our Huilloc cooperative where it will be much more accessible to our women artisans, but first we are working with the women to help them come up with a plan for where to keep it. It is possible that it may travel from house to house, but this is not ideal due to the size and weight of the machine. Eventually the women in Huilloc will build their own crafts center, but we are working on finding a safe, permanent home for the equipment until they have their own central space.
The Awamaki team sends a huge THANK YOU to everyone who helped us achieve our goal of purchasing a drum carder. We’re working hard to make sure the women with whom we work have the tools and training they need to make high quality products, and we appreciate your help along the way!
After years of planning and working, the Puente Inca knitting cooperative has broken ground on its new knitting center!
In 2010, the community of Puente Inca suffered devastating floods that destroyed most houses. The cooperative was formed in the wake of these floods, to help the women earn income and get back on their feet.
In 2011, the knitters decided they wanted to build a knitting center, and Awamaki secured a grant and a school service group to help build the center. But because of unclear land usage regulations related to the flooding and the Incan ruins in the area, they were unable to secure land and the center was never built. (The grant money was diverted to cover other costs with the permission of the funder.)
Fast forward to last year, when Awamaki's other knitting cooperative, just down the road in Rumira, acquired land and broke ground on their new knitting center with the help of grants, donations (like yours!) and service groups. Within months, the Puente Inca knitters had also purchased land and were ready to build!
The women not only raised and contributed enough money to buy the land for a community knitting center. They also secured donated skilled labor and committed to hosting the service groups that would help with construction and its funding.
Ground was first broken in April, but the intensity of construction has picked up with more group visits this month.
The most service group arrived in Puente Inca with twenty-four volunteers from the US and nearly as many curious, stray dogs in tow. The kids looked around for the knitting center they would be working on and realized that it was in front of them - an empty plot of land with a hole in each corner.
The local construction supervisor split them into three groups—one to cut rebar, one to bend the rebar into half a million identical rectangles, and one to dig holes for the columns. The two rebar groups were building poles for columns that would be cemented into the holes being dug. The group also passed rocks and took plenty of water breaks. By the time they left, the rebar for the cement columns was in place--and a whole lot of rocks had been moved to where they needed to go!
The knitting center, so long in the making, is finally rising. Maritza, the cooperative's treasurer, told us how much the center meant to her.
"This has been our dream," she said. "Now we will have a place to keep our materials. We can buy equipment too, because we have a place to keep it now."
The women's husbands and sons who worked on the center were also enthusiastic. "This is a good project," said the husband of one of the knitters as he headed back to his house to pick up some more tools for the worksite. "They can earn money, and help themselves and each other."
What do you get when you combine leftover alpaca fibers and soap?
Felted soap bars!
The women of the Huilloc spinning cooperative frequently have leftover alpaca fibers that are too short to spin. For several years, they made these fibers into felt for authentic felted soap.
But two years ago, our natural soap source dried up, and we haven't been able to find another. Until now!
The spinners of Huilloc saw a business opportunity through a partnership with Munay Tika, a company based in Cusco that produces natural and biodegradable hygiene products. Munay Tika emphasizes the importance of high quality and reliability in its products and looks for the same values in its partners, making an alliance with Awamaki a perfect fit.
Now, the Huilloc women have begun felting to Munay Tika’s bar soap. This layer of alpaca fleece, which is both functional and decorative, completely covers the bar and serves as an excellent exfoliant when the wet soap is rubbed on the skin. It’s not just for home, though—felted soap is ideal for travelers because the alpaca fur dries completely after use. This eliminates the need for a soap holder to avoid the residue that bar soap often leaves behind in your travel caddy. Extra bonus: a built-in loofah!
Awamaki's first soap product was a small hand soap felted with alpaca fibers in a blend of natural colors. The new bars are a larger, spa-sized bar, and the women have experimeted with decorating the soaps using the alpaca fibers.
The soap designs include flowers and mountains as well as the more traditional blend of different colored alpaca fiber. What inspired the designs, we asked?
"We just look around us," said Victoria, the president of the group.